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JOHN KING, USA

Bomb Plot Targets Capitol; Turmoil in Syria

Aired February 17, 2012 - 18:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone. I'm John King.

Tonight, the feds say they have broken up a plot by a Moroccan man to strap on a suicide vest and bomb the U.S. Capitol.

Plus, Ann Romney says it's time for Michigan voters to wake up. And her husband, the candidate, takes sharp aim at the surging Rick Santorum.

And more than half a million bottles of infant Tylenol are recalled because of complaints that the new bottle makes it hard to get the dosage right.

We begin this evening with breaking news and the new face of terrorism. Authorities say a man arrested just blocks from the U.S. Capitol today represents one of the most urgent growing threats to this country, a lone wolf terror plot. Police say the man picked up today is a would-be suicide bomber and he was arrested as he accepted what he thought was a gun and a vest packed with explosives.

Our Brian Todd is live at the U.S. district courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia, where the suspect just appeared in court.

Brian, some fascinating new details coming out now in the court papers. Fill us in.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Certainly are, John. A very dramatic day when this alleged plot has unfolded in front of all of us.

But law enforcement officials tell us they have had this man under close surveillance working him undercover for at least the past couple of months. You mentioned the suspect, Amine El Khalifi, 29 years old, made a court appearance here in Alexandria before a judge. He's charged with the unlawfully attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction against property that is owned by the United States.

The details, John, that you mentioned, this is according to court documents that during meetings with undercover officers, Amine El Khalifi allegedly handled an AK-47 and indicated his desire to conduct an operation in which he would use a gun to kill people face to face. A law enforcement official tells us he initially had his sights on attacking a rescue in Washington, D.C., possibly synagogues, possibly a military installation, but that he then settled on the U.S. Capitol and wanted to detonate a suicide bomb inside the U.S. Capitol. Here's some more interesting information from court documents from an affidavit. It alleges that last month when El Khalifi had settled on the Capitol, having modified his plans for an attack, that same day on January 15 of last month, at a quarry in West Virginia, as the demonstration of the effects of a proposed suicide bomb operations, he dialed a cell phone number that he believed would detonate a bomb placed in that quarry.

The test bomb detonated and he expressed a desire for a larger explosion in his attack. According to court documents, he selected February 17, today, as the date of the operation and he was picked up at a garage near the U.S. Capitol as he was picking up what he thought was going to be a suicide vest.

It was a vest given to him and a gun, but both those of were rendered inoperable. He was picked up and taken into custody, but some very interesting details. He had allegedly, according to law enforcement officials, had mapped this out in his mind and with undercover agents for quite some time.

KING: Brian Todd live for us outside the courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia.

If our viewers don't understand, terrorism cases, big federal cases like this in the Washington, D.C., area often brought to that courthouse in Alexandria. Brian getting the latest details -- Brian, thank you. We will continue to track this story.

Let's dig deeper now on how these investigations are conducted.

We're joined by FBI Assistant Director and CNN contributor Tom Fuentes.

Tom, let's go through this operation. They are controversial sometimes. But when you have an operation like this, you have a suspect and start tracking him and the FBI gets involved actually with him. How does it unfold?

TOM FUENTES, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: We have to understand these cases are reported by the hundreds to the FBI throughout the country and throughout world. Sometimes, people are trying to report on somebody they don't like, their next-door neighbor or an ex-husband or something. The FBI has to begin the investigation and look at is it a credible threat, is it a credible report and is this person really intent on it or is it just someone trying to get a neighbor in trouble or someone else?

Once they begin the investigation, if they are finding out that this person does want to carry out the attack, that he's looking for assistance, he's looking for experts and other fellow terrorists, then that gives them the opportunity to possibly introduce undercover agents posing as al Qaeda or other affiliate terrorists.

And then in that investigation then they should be able to record conversations, get his e-mail addresses, intercept other e-mail from him and determine is he's really serious. As it progresses -- my understanding from sources today was that around December, a couple months ago, is when this really took on -- that they knew he was absolutely serious. He was intent on using a suicide vest.

We heard about the initial things he talked about. But later he settles on the Capitol, a suicide vest. And at that point you know that this is going to be horrific. It's going to have mass media attention doing something like that at the Capitol and it will be the first time we have had a suicide vest used by someone in the United States and in this case, right in Washington, D.C.

KING: So take us inside this kind of investigation. We have heard for some time, a lot of security officials, whether it's at the CIA, whether it's Homeland Security, say the biggest worry is a lone wolf. When you have somebody who you believe has expressed this interest, who is going through the steps of trying to buy explosives, trying to test his plan, then do did you find out is this is a single operator, a lone wolf and how much harder is it to stop and track when you somebody operating on their own?

FUENTES: It's hard to find out about the lone wolf. Once you do find out about them, it is almost a sigh of relief if it is in fact a lone wolf and there are not other co-conspirators either throughout the country or world who are going to carry out a simultaneous attack or assist him in this attack.

Yes, the lone wolf is very difficult. The FBI and other agencies conduct extensive community outreach trying to convince citizens in the community please help us. If you hear of somebody who is intent on doing something or talking about this out loud that he hates the United States or wants to commit an act, please report it. Please tell the police, please tell the FBI and then they can start to look at, is this, in fact, that individual lone wolf.

And in this case, when the FBI is satisfied that in fact he doesn't have other conspirators out there, if they arrest him, that will be the end of the plot, that they have the entire thing contained, then they are able to go forward and do that.

KING: They wait for that moment when they are certain and then they go forward...

(CROSSTALK)

FUENTES: Yes, they can. If the subject enables them to have that luxury, they do.

KING: Tom Fuentes, appreciate your insights. Thanks so much.

We will stay on top of this story and bring you the latest a little bit later in the hour.

We're going to shift now to politics though and a tough new tone for Mitt Romney. He lit into Rick Santorum today with the same intensity that he usually saves for attacks on President Obama.

Here' Governor Romney a couple of hours ago in Idaho which holds caucuses on Super Tuesday. That's March 6.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I hope people take a very close look at his record because he was in Congress for about 20 years and during that time the size of the federal government doubled during his time in office. He voted for billions of dollars of earmarks, including the bridge to nowhere.

If you want a fiscal conservative, you can't vote for Rick Santorum because he's not. He's not a deficit hawk. He says he's not a deficit hawk. I am. I'm a fiscal conservative. I will balance the budget. I will get America back on track economically.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: With us now, "TIME" magazine senior correspondent and deputy Washington bureau chief Michael Crowley.

Michael, you heard Governor Romney there, pretty feisty for him. You write just this week in the magazine about what Romney shouldn't do. And you say, number one, don't lurch right, number two, don't roll out a new Mitt and number three don't stop attacking.

It sounds like he's following you on number three. Step back and tell us what we just heard means and your other points, why they're so important.

MICHAEL CROWLEY, DEPUTY BUREAU CHIEF, "TIME": Sure.

I love that like someone said he's fired up and ready to go. It sounds like Obama in 2008. He's got some energy and emotion. But I think that Republican voters know mostly good things about Santorum. He wasn't attacked in these debates. Nobody has really been throwing negative ads at him. He was a senator for a long time and there's a reason why senators have trouble running for president.

Think of all the votes John Kerry has to answer for in 2004. You cast a lot of votes in the Senate. There are compromises. It's kind of bum steers that you send out the door to get a deal done. They look bad out of context. They look bad years later.

Romney's going to remind Republican voters of all of the things that Santorum did in the Senate and I think their opinion of them may change a little bit. So I think his best strategy right now is to attack, attract.

The two other points very quickly don't try to completely reinvent yourself. When you try to do it too quickly and in a moment of desperation, it just looks phony. And it will reinforce the sense people have.

KING: Especially for someone who people sort of question anyway.

(CROSSTALK) CROWLEY: Yes. I think he just has to live by who he is. He's not a great politician. He's got to say, I'm a manager, I'm a businessman, I'm a fix-it man. He can pump it up a little bit, a little more energy. That's fine.

But just don't roll out some phony new shtick. And finally don't lunch to the right. The nomination is not worth having if you can't get elected. I think Rick Santorum will have trouble getting elected if he does win the nomination because he is so conservative. Romney's best strength is that he does have that moderation. He wants to be just conservative enough to get the nomination and be a strong candidate against Obama.

I think basically fire away so to speak and see if the attacks work.

KING: To see if they work, two places we will look right now, Arizona and Michigan. They both vote on the 28th and they round out the month. We have a debate in Arizona next week.

And one of the things there, Governor Romney was born in Michigan. His dad was the governor. His dad was a big auto company CEO. He has an ad up on television saying I have Michigan roots. But Senator Santorum today trying to say, wait, not so fast. It's not just Mitt.

Listen here.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: When my grandfather first came to this country back in 1925, he actually came to Detroit and worked a couple of years in the auto factories. And so we do have some roots here in Michigan.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: We're all from Michigan I guess as this one rolls around.

But give me your take on Senator Santorum. A new ARG poll out today shows that he's still holding a five-point lead. That's a poll. There was another one just several days ago. So at the moment he's holding. As you mentioned, the attacks and the ads are just going up. Let's revisit this one in a few days. But his growth as a candidate from early on, how would you assess him?

CROWLEY: Well, Santorum, I think he's growing into it.

I think he's doing a pretty good job. He doesn't make a lot of mistakes. He's done a pretty good job of staying on his message. He has maybe some problems with some of his supporters, a certain billionaire who said some things that caused some controversy.

KING: Off-color humor?

CROWLEY: Off-color humor. But I think Santorum did a pretty good job of locking that down.

I really the test again to go back to this question is when a fuller picture of him emerges that I'm not sure a lot of Republican voters know about, his career in Washington, what he did after he left the Senate, the fact he's the "blue-collar candidate" -- quote, unquote here -- but the guy is a millionaire as we saw from his tax returns.

It's just going to make things more complicated and I think that Michigan really is going to be a close race and a hard-fought one and we're just going to have to see whether the Romney attacks cut him back down to size or not.

KING: One of the things those returns note is that somebody in the family owns an Audi. We will see how that one plays.

(CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY: Yes, not a blue-collar car.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: Michael, thanks coming in tonight.

CROWLEY: OK. Thank you.

KING: Senator John McCain, a one-time prisoner of war, heading now to Egypt to try to resolve a crisis, over 1,600 Americans detained by the Egyptian government. We will tell you more about that trip in just a little bit.

But next, the graduate student who cracked a computer code and discovered Google may have been watching you even if you're using Apple gadgets that are supposed to block it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JONATHAN MAYER, STANFORD GRADUATE STUDENT: What's going on here is a cat and mouse game or an arms race where users try to protect themselves and company tries to trump the user expectations and everything resets.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: If you have an iPhone or iPad, you may have thought that you were safe from being tracked across the Internet. Apple even brags about its Safari Web browser, saying it looks out for you, blocking third-party tracking by default.

But guess what? "The Wall Street Journal" revealed today that even on Safari, Google may have been tracking you.

Jonathan Mayer is the Stanford graduate who cracked the code.

Jonathan, how did you do it?

MAYER: So, we began by running some advertisements of our own. And in those ads, we included some code that measured which advertising networks had placed cookies in users' browsers.

And we targeted those ads to IOS users, users of iPhones, iPads, iPod Touches. And we noticed some unusual results. For most advertisement networks, relatively few users had cookies. But for Google and several other advertising networks, a lot of users had cookies. And that clued us in that something was wrong.

KING: Clued you in that something was wrong.

Google was asked about this by "The Wall Street Journal" and a spokeswoman said -- quote -- "'The Journal ' mischaracterizes what happens and why." It says if you go to Safari, there are plenty of exceptions and it just took advantage of what I will call an existing loophole.

True?

MAYER: I would definitely disagree with the way in which Google has responded to our research findings and "The Wall Street Journal" coverage.

Google suggests that this was OK because it was technically possible. I think that's a pretty weak argument. There are all sorts of things that are technically possible that we criticize people for doing. In fact, there are some things that are technically possible we throw people in jail for doing.

KING: Should we be surprised at all, though?

MAYER: I think so. I think Google should be held to a higher standard.

Google prides itself on being the company that wants to organize the world's information. It's of course quite proud of its corporate motto, don't be evil. And so I think we should expect more from them. Google has suggested that what happened here was a mistake. That certainly is a plausible story.

It aligns with the research data we collected. But, of course, mistakes are not enough to immunize a company from responsibility. If a company is negligent in its treatment of personal information, I think that should still have some consequences.

KING: And so if there's somebody out there who maybe made the choice to get an iPad, to get an iPod because they thought they were safer, they were more protected, they were being watched a lot less and had more privacy, what's the message in this to them? Do any of us have any expectation of privacy?

MAYER: I think regrettably this episode reifies the understanding from some privacy researchers and advocates that what's going on here is a cat and mouse game or an arms race where users try to protect themselves and company tries to trump the user expectations and everything resets.

I think that's a really bad outcome for consumers.

KING: And if there's a user watching right now that says, what do I do? I have got my iPad right here, I have got my iPhone in my hand. What do I do to protect myself? What should they do?

MAYER: We did some research looking at the relative effectiveness of various consumer self-help tools at preventing blocking.

Regrettably, it appears for the moment, the most effective skills -- and they're far from comprehensive -- require blocking advertisements. And that's certainly not a good outcome, because then you're forcing consumers to choose between subsidizing the free Web sites they love and their personal property.

KING: Jonathan, appreciate your help tonight.

And a lot of people out there probably shaking their heads at this, although I guess some probably not surprised that they may think they are not being watched, but they are.

Again, congratulations on cracking the code and thanks for helping us tonight.

MAYER: Thanks. Have a good night.

KING: Next: news no parent wants to hear, a major recall of infant Tylenol because you may be giving your child the wrong dose.

Plus, an oil spill closes part of the Mississippi River, as officials scramble to protect their clean drinking water.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Welcome back.

(NEWS BREAK)

KING: When we come back: oil prices now the highest they have been in months, and the stock market higher than it's been in years. In a moment, we will tell you what might go down first.

And later: the "Truth" about Rick Santorum's confusing answers to questions about contraception, as we visit the culture wars.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: In this half-hour: a planned attack on the U.S. Capitol stopped by the FBI -- what lawmakers were told about the operation unfolding just blocks from the Capitol dome.

And Rick Santorum is not winning any popularity contests among his former colleagues. He spent 12 years in the Senate, but not a single endorsement from a sitting senator. What gives? Plus, two barges smack into each other and oil spills into the Mississippi River. We'll bring you the latest from Louisiana.

Let's start with this hour's breaking news story. This afternoon's first court appearance for a man accused of plotting to detonate a suicide bomb at the U.S. Capitol. The 29-year-old suspect is from Morocco. In court this afternoon, authorities revealed the suspect first wanted to a restaurant, a military base or a synagogue here in the Washington area, then settled on the Capitol building last month as his target, and they say he intended to bomb it today.

He was arrested in a sting operation today as he accepted what he thought was a gun and a suicide vest packed with explosives. The House Homeland Security Committee chairman, Peter King tells CNN the FBI did a phenomenal job of tracking the suspect and disrupting the plot.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. PETER KING (D), NEW YORK: (NO AUDIO)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Issues with the audio there. Our apologies. Both the House and the Senate were in session today. CNN congressional correspondent Kate Bolduan has been getting lawmakers' reaction and is back with us -- Kate.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It was a very scary day for anyone on the Hill or even in Washington, I'll tell you, John.

The reaction on the Hill was mostly surprise and shock, quite frankly. The arrest occurred moments after the Senate had just finished its vote on the payroll tax cut extension. The House had passed it earlier in the day and was still in session at the time.

And I remember the Capitol was very busy with tourists at the time that this all happened.

A congressional source tells CNN top congressional leaders were briefed on the arrest and the operation but wouldn't give us any further detail. And frankly, that's not too surprising because they do stay pretty tight-lipped on these issues. Indeed the House Majority Leader, Eric Cantor, says the majority leader's office was briefed soon after the FBI arrest.

And I spoke with several members of Congress as well as top aides as the news was breaking and as most were leaving the Capitol for the week-long break ahead of them, and most weren't aware of the arrest or the operation at all.

We do know that the Capitol police were involved in the investigation into this man and the arrests that happened near the Capitol today.

But over and over again today, John, they stressed that at no point in this whole thing where it was the public or any -- anyone in the congressional community in danger. But as I said, earlier it was a pretty scary reminder of what danger could be, especially working on the Hill and working in Washington.

KING: And the worry so many people have often talked about: a lone wolf, somebody that's harder to track. We'll continue to stay on top of this story.

BOLDUAN: Yes.

KING: OK. Thanks. We'll see you a bit later in the program.

In case you haven't noticed, the stock market is on a tear of late. We've seen levels we haven't seen since 2008. Blue chips now pushing the 13,000 mark.

Alison Kosik joins me now to put this in perspective. Alison, where are we now in terms of a recovery for the Dow?

ALISON KOSIK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: All right. And as far as the Dow goes, John, when you see where the Dow has been and where it is now, it's really made up quite a lot of ground.

And you know, this didn't happen overnight. It's actually been one of those real slow, steady climbs over the several -- past several months. That's despite the uncertainty that's been coming from the European debt crisis.

And what you see happening are markets actually reacting to all those economic reports that have come out lately, showing that the recovery is actually picking up speed. The economy showing that it's adding jobs. The housing numbers, they're improving. GDP is weak, but it is growing.

Now, we do watch the Dow, because it's really meant to be representative of the economy. It's made up of leading banks, tech companies, retailers, insurance companies. And what's in the Dow are these real specially chosen companies that are expected to be around a while.

But it -- the Dow only includes 30 stocks. And Wall Street pros, they say other indexes like the S&P 500 are really a better reflection of how the broader market is doing -- John.

KING: And yet we're having this conversation. Really, it's an election year. People will look at any economic indicator, the unemployment rate, for one. How significant would it be, maybe psychologically, maybe beyond that, for the Dow to get to 13,000?

KOSIK: And you said it. You know, 13,000 on the Dow is really an important psychological milestone. It's a lovely nice round number, and you know what? It certainly couldn't hurt President Obama's chances for re-election if the Dow gets there, stays there, and goes even higher. But that is a big "if." However, it is getting quite close. The Dow right now sits about 50 points away from 13,000. And you know what? While it sounds great, it's actually not near its peak levels that it was at before the recession. If you look at how the past five years have been, it's really been a wild ride. Take a look.

The Dow actually hit a record 14,000 in 2007. Then it bottomed out at 2009 at 6,000, and that was a drop of more than 50 percent. So since then the Dow has really, really clawed its way back.

But you know what? For investors, it's all about gaining back what was lost. You know, people just want to break even, maybe even make a profit. And to get there, to at least break even, the Dow still needs to gain another 9 percent to reach its all-time high.

The S&P 500 has to make up even bigger ground. It has to go up another 13 percent, and that's what most of our mutual funds, our retirement funds, our 401(k)s track. So that's the real -- the real index that we want -- that we really want to look at.

But you can't deny that 13,000 is a lovely number to look at -- John.

KING: Looking at all those reports, now that we're approaching tax season, yes, I'd like to break even a little bit more, Alison.

KOSIK: I hear you.

KING: Alison, thanks for your help tonight. Take care.

Rick Santorum was a two-term congressman before his pair of terms as a senator from Pennsylvania. One would assume he made a fair amount of friends among his former colleagues. But as our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, notes here, that's not necessarily translating into endorsements.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Ask Rick Santorum's old Senate colleagues about his bid for president and you get some of this...

(on camera) Rick Santorum.

SEN. JOHN THUNE (R), SOUTH DAKOTA: I came out early for Governor Romney, and -- and I think he's best positioned to win the general election.

BASH (voice-over): ... a little of this...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's not the purpose of the news conference.

BASH: ... this...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. Don't have time.

BASH: ... and this moment from the senator who was one rank below Santorum in GOP leadership.

(on camera) Senator Hutchinson, you really served with Rick Santorum. Do you have anything good to say about him?

SEN. KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON (R), TEXAS: Oh, yes. Very nice person, but I'm not going to do presidential politics right now.

BASH (voice-over): Rick Santorum was in the Senate 12 years, four years in the house. Yet, Mitt Romney has far more congressional endorsements, 77; 12 in the Senate alone. Santorum has just three House endorsements and zero in the Senate. No sitting senators have endorsed him.

REP. RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you, leader. I appreciate...

BASH: and Santorum was a senior member of the Senate Republican leadership.

So why the lack of support? Questions about electability. Multiple GOP Senate sources tell CNN many who were in the Senate trenches with Santorum like him but don't think he can win the presidency. They recall speeches like this about gay marriage.

SANTORUM: ... as a union between one man and one woman. I think traditional marriage is good for everyone. It results in a healthier society, more stable children.

BASH: One veteran GOP leadership aide called him a culture warrior, likely to turn off moderate voters.

SANTORUM: I don't believe life begins at conception. I know life begins at conception.

BASH: And GOP Senate sources tell CNN colleague often privately point to Santorum's crushing 18-point loss in his 2006 re-election bid.

But Pennsylvania's Glenn "G.T." Thompson dismisses all that. He's one of the three House members to endorse Santorum.

REP. GLENN THOMPSON (R), PENNSYLVANIA: He recognizes what the No. 1 task -- the hurdle faced in this country, and it's jobs. And I like the fact that he is -- he talks about manufacturing and small businesses, in particular, as the backbone of this country, economically.

BASH: And some of Santorum's former colleagues do say nice things.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's knowledgeable. He's conservative.

SEN. JEFF SESSIONS (R), ALABAMA: I love Rick Santorum. I think he would be a great president.

BASH: Still, no endorsement. SESSIONS: I haven't endorsed anybody.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: And, John, you talk to some other of his colleagues and it's pretty clear that it's not that he doesn't have relationships here, doesn't have friendships here. He certainly does. He even has supporters in terms of his issues. It is just really mostly the electability issue.

KING: And Dana, back when it was Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker on the rise, you reported that, not only did he have hardly any endorsements in the Congress, but some were outright freaked out about the possibility of him as the nominee, thinking he would drag the party down in November. Is it the same for Senator Santorum?

BASH: You know, I was asking a veteran Republican leadership aide that question yesterday, and the answer was, there is a freak out. It's just a quieter freak out. It's more muted. And it is something that we would likely see more of in an open way here on Capitol Hill if Senator Santorum does well not just in the next contests, Michigan and Arizona, but more importantly, on Super Tuesday, with all of those contests on March 6.

If that happens, another Senate Republican source says that people are going to be very, very nervous. Because they don't think he's electable, that he could appeal to independent and moderate voters that they know they need in order to beat Barack Obama.

KING: A question we will keep on the table there for future contests. Dana Bash, live on Capitol Hill tonight, thank you.

And it seems nothing, nothing has changed on the ground in Syria this one day after the United Nations condemned the bloody government crackdown.

More shellings, more attacks, and sadly, more deaths. Over 60 killed today alone. And in the city of Homs activists say they've heard rumblings the regime may launch a huge ground offensive as early as tonight.

Still, protestors are rallying across the country, chanting for regime change. Our Ivan Watson has been in the heart of those demonstrations in northern Syria.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

IVAN WATSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, today we saw the face of the Syrian revolution. Hundreds of men and boys who went to Friday prayers in a mosque in an opposition-held village that we visited, and they paid their respects to one of their neighbors who they said was killed by a sniper's bullet in the nearby contested city of Idli (ph).

Then they poured out into the streets, chanting "Allah akbar," "God is great," and held a serious rally denouncing the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad under a freezing, pouring rainstorm. It was a remarkable scene, especially because they said Syrian tanks are massing at an army base less than two miles down the road from this opposition-held village.

And I asked one of the activists why they participate in this weekly ritual of defiance. Here's what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want to send a message. Every day they are shelling the building. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) CNN channel, please, please help us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WATSON: John, the fact that this is still a practice in places like this is remarkable, considering the incredible loss of life over the last 11 months since this uprising began. More than 6,000 people killed, and it's very clear that these people are facing the threat that they could become the next target of a Syrian military offensive.

The fact that they're continuing it shows they are -- have their backs against the wall. Many of them saying they have no choice but to continue in the revolt against the Syrian machine -- John.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Ivan Watson, great reporting from Ivan. In Syria, this sad note about another very great reporters, a Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalist, who braved bullets and glass to report from the Middle East, has died in Syria. Coming up, we'll pay tribute to Anthony Shadid.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Ask any American: look around the room right now, ask what are the one or two biggest issues facing the next president? Not likely many people would answer contraception. Yet it's an issue in the news and in campaign speeches quite a bit these days, in part because of a big policy misstep by the Obama White House. A fight with Catholic bishops and other religious groups over whether their health insurance policies for employees must cover -- must provide free contraception coverage.

It was in the news again when a top financial backer of Rick Santorum tried his hand at humor.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FOSTER FRIESS, RICK SANTORUM DONOR: This contraceptive thing, my gosh, it's so -- it's so inexpensive. Back in my days they used Bayer aspirin for contraception. The gals put it between their knees and it wasn't that costly.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Senator Santorum was smart and quick to get some distance from his friend.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANTORUM: Well, you know, this is someone who's a supporter of mine. And I'm not responsible for every comment that a supporter of mine makes. There are lots of folks who at least say it was a bad joke, it was a stupid joke. It's not reflective of me or my record on this issue.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Well, here's tonight's "Truth." Senator Santorum is right. He is not accountable for a friend's stupid joke, but he does owe voters some clarity about an issue in which he has offered confusing, if not conflicting, statements.

Just today, he made a very clear distinction between personal views and policy actions. Here's the personal.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANTORUM: As a Catholic and a -- I do my best to be a faithful Catholic. My wife and I, we don't believe or practice birth control as an article of faith in our church.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: And here's the policy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANTORUM: There obviously -- there must be a little bit of confusion as to what my position is. My position is that birth control can and should be available. If people want to use it, they certainly have a right to use it. I have voted in the past for funding for it for poor women.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: But, yes, there is a little confusion. On this program last month, Senator Santorum said his personal view is that contraception is wrong, but...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANTORUM: I didn't vote for any kind of ban on contraception; nor did I vote for any ban on sodomies and nor would I as president.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: But back in October, speaking to an evangelical blog, he did sound as if he would use the bully pulpit to push his personal position.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SANTORUM: One of the things I will talk about, that no president has talked about before, is I think, the dangers of contraception. Many a person of faith ha said, that's OK. Contraception is OK.

It's not OK. It's a license to do things of a sexual realm that is counter to what -- how things are supposed to be.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: So why one answer to an evangelical organization during the Iowa campaign but a different one and a different tone now?

Truth is, if there's any confusion, Senator, he himself, Senator Santorum, has created it.

Here to discuss this and more, Republican strategist Terry Holt. Back with us is "TIME" Washington bureau chief Michael Crowley, and Barbara Comstock. She's Mitt Romney's Virginia co-chair and a member of the house of delegates.

Barbara, to you first. If you listen to that in Iowa he's quoting evangelicals and he seems to say, I'll have a conversation that the American people, no president is willing to have. Now he says, "I have a personal opinion. It doesn't affect my policy choices."

How difficult is it on these issues to draw the lines?

BARBARA COMSTOCK, MITT ROMNEY VIRGINIA CO-CHAIR: Well, I think you opened up the segment by talking about, this is not anyone's No. 1 issue. What is it, is jobs. That's why I think, as the Romney representative here, what we're looking with the Michigan primary is jobs. And that's what is on people's minds.

Now, to the extent that Obama Care has opened it up, just the issue in general, that's what -- what you're going to force people to pay for or religious organizations. But the reason people are so upset about Obama care is mainly it's killing job creation. So it really all gets back to jobs, I think, on all these issues.

And if we're not talking our jobs, we're not talking about the No. 1 issue, certainly in Michigan, but I think in the country when you look at the third year of the stimulus that has been failed and hasn't worked and you have over 20 million people unemployed. We need to get back to talking about jobs.

KING: I agree with you wholeheartedly. Except, Michael, that Republican candidates were quick to jump when they wanted to criticize President Obama on this issue. And this is one of these cases where Senator Santorum, no matter what he said, on jobs he couldn't get attention. On any issue he couldn't get attention when he was at 2 percent in Iowa.

But now that he is a serious threat to the domination, he's being vetted. He's being looked at more closely. And there is, at least in tone, an inconsistency there. MICHAEL CROWLEY, "TIME" WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF: Well, absolutely. But his political demands are different now. So in Iowa, he was trying to carve out a niche for himself among evangelical conservatives. And the game there was to try to get a plurality. There were so many candidates in the race, if you could lock down one faction, you might win Iowa.

Now, he's playing to a larger audience. A Michigan -- Michigan electorate is more moderate. Jobs are a bigger issue. And he's also got to start thinking about the possibility of November. This is not a winning issue in November. If you are seen as being anti- contraception, that is not going to win you the swing vote.

And I think this is great for Mitt Romney, who I think doesn't want to come out and attack Santorum from the left on this issue, but is happy to have this conversation unfold in a colorful way, a foster (ph) these comments. For Romney people, it is very socially conservative.

KING: Knocks on Governor Romney has been that either he's inconsistent or he's changed his position, or that he's changed his position for political calculations. Terry, if you were advising a candidate other than Santorum in this race, would you question the consistency there? What would you do?

TERRY HOLT, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I wouldn't so much. I think that part of what this election is about is it being a base election. Both parties are trying to motivate the most intense activists in their organizations, and so, conservative candidates have talked a lot to the social values.

Barack Obama has done what he's done. He didn't pick this fight with the Catholic church by an accident. He's trying to generate support among his pro-choice supporters.

But I think, though, for the American people, this is a huge distraction. Doesn't have anything to do with the problems in their lives. And ultimately, the candidate that gets to that conversation first and most effectively is going to win this presidential campaign.

KING: Well, Ann Romney tried to get to it today in Michigan, but I'm not sure she did it in the most effective way. She was essentially saying in Michigan, "Hey, my husband's trailing here, and he is the candidate," as Barbara just noted, in her view, who wants to do more to help you with a job. Here's how she put it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANN ROMNEY, WIFE OF MITT ROMNEY: I want Michigan to be there with us and give us the push we need to take the fight to Obama. And so I'm really looking forward to Michiganders waking up and recognizing that Mitt's the guy that can fix this.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Yes. I've met Mrs. Romney. I've been around a long time. She's a delightful person. I'm sure she didn't quite mean it that way, but is it the smart policy to tell voters, "I need you to wake up"?

COMSTOCK: Ann's trying to make -- I was there four years ago when they won, and I feel good about this. People there know Mitt Romney and they know he has been a turnaround guy.

When you're talking about -- I first met him at the Olympics where we went out there, no salary, to go out there and turn around that Olympics. Then he became governor, again, who's working for no salary, fixed things up in the economy in Massachusetts, which was no small feat.

And now, he's going to be able to do that for the country. So, you know, Ann is charming, and she's out there talking. She grew up in Michigan.

KING: Terry, if your candidate's losing, do you tell them to go out and tell the voters to wake up; you're looking at the wrong person?

HOLT: No. It's pointing the finger at the wrong -- at the wrong entity in this case. The Michigan voters are very aware and very awake in the recession. It's hit them hardest of anybody in the country.

But again, welcome to the 24-hour news cycle where every little nit and pick is going to be endlessly torn apart. She got caught by that today.

KING: All right.

CROWLEY: Also, I don't think they need to be told to wake up. The advertising campaign, the Romney campaign, is about to dump into Michigan; it's going to be cold water on a sleeping Michigander.

KING: Michael, Barbara, Terry, thanks for your time. Have a great weekend everybody.

Still ahead here, a mafia loan shark investigation leads authorities to an enormous stash of fake U.S. treasury bonds.

Plus, two barges collide in the Mississippi, forcing some communities to cut off water supplies.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BOLDUAN: Welcome back. Kate Bolduan is back with the latest news you need to know right now.

BOLDUAN: A lot of news going on this evening.

Hello again. Good evening again, everyone.

A five-mile stretch of the Mississippi River near New Orleans is open again, but with some restrictions. It was closed for most of today after an oil barge collided with a construction barge around 2 a.m. The incident caused an oil spill that forced the St. Charles Parish Waterworks to shut off its intake. Officials say there's more than enough clean water, though, in the system.

Other stories that we're watching. The postal service wants to raise the price of first-class stamps again, to 50 cents this time. Stamps -- stamp prices already went up a penny last month to 45 cents. The nickel increase on top of that is part of a new plan to address the postal services' billions in losses.

Congress would have to say yes and sign off to that higher stamp price as well as to closing thousands of local post offices and cutting Saturday mail delivery.

"America's Got Talent" host Nick Cannon is easing up on his busy schedule after a recent health scare involving blood clots in his lungs. The 31-year-old actor, DJ and rapper is stepping down from his syndicated morning radio show, "Rolling with Nick Cannon."

Cannon is the father of 9-month-old twins with singer Mariah Carey. So he has much to fill his extra time.

Italian police seized 6 trillion -- yes, that's "trillion" with a "T" -- in fake U.S. Treasury bonds. Investigators said members of a criminal network tried to use the bonds in emerging markets or give them to banks in exchange for money. And John, about 6 trillion is about a third of the total U.S. debt. That's a lot of fake bonds.

KING: A lot of fake bonds. Thanks.

Finally tonight, instead of the moment you missed, it's with a heavy heart we honor a reporter the world will miss.

Anthony Shadid, an award-winning journalist who stared down danger countless times to cover revolts, wars and turmoil in the Middle East, has died. He was inside Syria reporting on the brutal crackdown when he apparently suffered a violent asthma attack.

Shadid spent two decades in harm's way working for the "New York Times," "The Boston Globe," and "The Washington Post." He won two Pulitzers covering Iraq with a post, captivating readers with articles like this, in Iraq, the day after. "No one values the victims any more. Attackers united by piety in plot to strike troops."

His words won't be forgotten and neither will his bravery. He was once shot in Ramallah. He was captured by Gadhafi's forces in Libya. Never kept him from covering events that changed our world.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANTHONY SHADID, PULITZER-PRIZE-WINNING JOURNALIST: I think there are some stories that are worth taking risks for. It is rather a cliche, but there is some meaning to it. That, you know, unless you're there covering it, no one is going to -- to know about it. Unless you're there trying to bring meaning to it, to bring a certain depth to it, it won't be done otherwise. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: His father says reporting is what Shadid lived for.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was a humble man. He was dedicated to being a journalist. He wanted to be a journalist all his life. He wanted to be the best, and he was the best.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: He was, indeed. We miss Anthony Shadid.

We'll see you Monday here.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.